Nanowood: The building material of the future
Tian Li and Liangbing Hu at the University of Maryland created 'Nanowood' a new material that could massively reduce waste and save the planet.
Nanowood acts like biological styrofoam and can be used in everything from drink containers to insulation. It is wood without lignin, the ingredient in wood that makes it brown and rigid.
Nanowood can be developed from fast-growing lighter woods, like balsa wood, while slower-growing trees would be left alone. Nanowood under 1mm in thickness can be folded and bent and thus can easily be used as cost-effective insulation, or even as a replacement for styrofoam cups which take 500+ years to biodegrade. It's also 30x stronger than styrofoam and can insulate better than silica aerogel by a whole 12º C.
The team has been probing the properties of nanocellulose, nanometer-scale versions of cellulose, the tough carbohydrate in the cell walls of plants that allows tree trunks to grow strong and tall. At these incredibly small scales, cellulose fibers can take on remarkable characteristics, including a strength-to-weight ratio that's about eight times that of steel.
The key is mostly in the design. Wood “conducts” heat along the channels that were used when the tree was alive to shuttle water and nutrients from roots to leaves. However, heat trying to cross the wood grain is blocked.
With the wood oriented in the right direction, heat could be blocked or transmitted as the designer desires.
Nanowood could be the building material of the future. With sustainable production, you could see houses, skyscrapers, and all kinds of things.